Caltech graduate student Preston Cosslett Kemeny has been selected by the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation to receive a 2017 Hertz Fellowship. Twelve students were selected to receive the award from a pool of more than 700 applicants, and will receive up to five years of support for their graduate studies.
Kemeny is a first-year graduate student in geochemistry in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences. A native of Garrison, New York, he received his bachelor's degree in geosciences from Princeton University, summa cum laude, in June of 2015. At Caltech, Kemeny's initial PhD work will combine isotope geochemistry with paleoclimate research to better understand global elemental cycles throughout Earth's history.
By studying the interactions between Earth's changing chemistry and biology, as recorded in the isotope ratios preserved in the geologic record, Kemeny hopes to shed light on the coevolution of life and climate. In particular, he is interested in the rise of atmospheric oxygen, oscillations between glacial and interglacial climates, and the physical chemistry underlying isotopic variation. Ultimately, he hopes his work will improve models of climate change and help combat the impacts of modern carbon emissions.
"I was originally attracted to Earth science because it combines my passions for experimentation and the outdoors," Kemeny says. "To me, nature is theory in experiential form, a way to walk through equations and physically interact with concepts. I love what I study and I love to be outside because they are two complementary sides, the theoretical and the real. When outdoors, I am reminded how complex and powerful reality actually is. Ultimately, modern ecosystems are the solutions to my research questions."
At graduation from Princeton, Kemeny received the Edward Sampson, Class of 1914, Prize in Environmental Geosciences and the Sigma Xi Book Award. Last year he was awarded a 2016 National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.
"The 2017 Fellow class is among the best and brightest we've ever seen, and we are proud to welcome them to the Hertz Community," Robbee Baker Kosak, president of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, said in a statement. "Hertz Fellows are developing solutions to issues of worldwide importance, from helping solve global health crises to addressing climate change and energy consumption. We look forward to seeing our new Fellows make similarly outstanding contributions as they pursue their research in the coming years."
The Hertz Foundation is the legacy of John Hertz, a Hungarian immigrant who became an entrepreneur in the automotive industry. The foundation has been supporting budding scientists and engineers for 60 years.